Google search Guinness World Records “Fastest marathon carrying a 100-pound pack,” and you will find UW-Green Bay student and Sergeant First Class William Kocken at the top of the list. Kocken crossed the finish line of the Green Bay Cellcom Marathon in May in record time, and his record became officially confirmed by Guinness on June 1.
The Green Bay native and Sergeant in the United States Army is three classes away from graduating at UW-Green Bay with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. His motivation for running 26.2 miles with a 100-pound backpack? The 4th HOOAH — a chapter with 200-plus volunteers who work to better the lives of Wisconsin veterans and their families. Kocken, became the chapter president in the last year.
The chapter has raised more than $200,000 through fundraisers and donations, using the funds to take veterans scuba diving, skydiving, fishing and much more along with aiding them with their financial constraints.
“To help even one veteran is the most rewarding part about being the chapter president,” he said.
With his accomplishment he also wishes to inspire people to do something big — “something they consider impossible.”
Kocken started training for the big day 17 months in advance. When he first started running with weight on his back, he recalled thinking “this is stupid,” and that the record breaker “was not human.” With winter being extraordinarily cold in Wisconsin, Kocken said he realized he was not running on a record-setting pace. He evaluated his options: Extend the training another 12 months or push to get 600 miles before the marathon. He chose to fit in the miles. He accomplished 602 miles — 130 of those with a weighted rucksack on his back. To make sure his rucksack would weigh more than 100 pounds from the start of the race to the finish, Kocken used steel plates which he placed strategically in the bag.
“The morning of the race is something I’ll never forget,” Kocken says. The weather kept the marathoners guessing all the way until the day of the execution, as the forecast predicted rain. Mother Nature saved the runners from rain, although as Kocken recalls, it was cold. He said he trusted his training, but nervousness was inevitable.
“We had brought a chair down to the start line for me to sit in and I just couldn’t sit in it, as I was too excited and nervous about how the day would go,” Kocken says, “It took almost the first five miles before I was finally able to settle down a bit and get into my race strategy because of the adrenaline pumping through my body.”
Although “hundreds” have inspired him, he said credit should go to his wife, Chelsea, who played an essential role in the training process by supporting his lifestyle and nutrition goals, and also gave him the nudges he needed for his 2 a.m. training times. His friend, Jason Braun, helped him generate the idea and battled through the training with him, all the way to the day of the race.
Kocken has taken a winding path to his bachelor’s degree. He started his career in the military as a member of the National Guard in hopes of helping to finance his education at UW-Fox Valley. But he dropped out of school and was deployed to Iraq. While deployed, he completed online courses at UW-Green Bay, and when he returned to the region, decided that college was indeed a goal worthy of pursuit. UW-Green Bay Veterans Coordinator Elaine Koltz, helped him construct a schedule that would work around his career and allowed him to work on his degree at his own pace.
“The people at UW-Green Bay were extremely helpful in helping me pursue an education online in Business Administration,” he said.
What’s next? After he graduates from UW-Green Bay, Kocken plans to continue on with his army career until he can retire in 20 years. He also plans to use his degree in Business Administration to grow his business, Forever Unbreakable, a platform for inspiring others through “unbreakable” stories delivered through podcasts and public speaking and a self-sustaining product line of merchandise with inspirational messaging.
Feature story by Marketing and University Communication student employee, Roosa Turunen ’20 Business Administration.